So high are your glaucous hills
of somber velvet,
so white your bell tower,
so white your carillon.
Your mist, your pigeon houses
equal tone; white in whiteness.
Oh province, blue tower,
Sea green, white fleece.
Small houses at the foot of the mountain,
meek law, faithful dog,
gentle home, candid girlfriend
who goes to mass at six.
-From Aires de San Juan by Alfredo Alegría Rosales, Poet of Jinotega, Nicaragua*
Over a hundred years ago, when Don Vicente López started a coffee farm in the mountains outside the city of Jinotega, coffee represented 65% of Nicaragua’s exports. Between 1895 and 1926, production of coffee in Jinotega tripled, from 4,500 bags to 13,500. After WWI, when Europe’s virtual lock on the purchase of Centrals was broken and Americans started drinking more complex flavor profiles, growing coffee in Nicaragua was, if not a sure thing, a good bet. The great Central American “coffee boom” of the early 20th Century faded in the 1930’s, but one thing has remained constant while the value and volume of coffee fluctuated: The Lopez family still grows coffee in the highlands east of Jinotega.
You won’t find the city of Jinotega listed among the oldest cities in Central America, but there was already an indigenous village, called Liginagüina, at the northern end of the valley, and a village called Xinotecatli (or Jinotega) at the southern end of the valley before the Spanish arrived in the early 16th century. By 1535, Jinotega was under passive Spanish administration. By 1570 the area was being actively settled by the Spanish and in 1603, the longer named, “San Juan de Jinotega,” was considered a Spanish settlement with a large indigenous population. That same year, Liginagüina and San Juan de Jinotega “merged” in some fashion, though as late as 1887 the town still had both a Spanish mayor and an indigenous mayor. Although we don’t really know how mutual the merger was, there are records dated 1760 of land within the town being measured and designated as belonging exclusively to the indigenous population.
The town is old enough that the meaning of the name, from the Aztec Nahuatl language, has been lost to time and guesses. Some linguists think Xinotecatli means “City of the Eternal Men” (or “old” men, as the indigenous population was said to live long), others think it means “Neighbors of the Jiñocuabos” (a local tree). The most poetic, and most accurate in describing the ideal coffee climate of the surrounding mountains is the city’s nickname, “City of Mist.”
Don Vincente’s son, Vicente López Herrera, took up the family business and started Finca Bethany, a coffee farm that remained in operation until the civil war in the 1980’s, when it was confiscated. However, three generations of the Lopez family came together again to start two new farms, Finca Los Papales, in honor of the family patriarch, Don Vincente, and Betania, after the farm that was taken away.
Above the City of Mist, Borboun, Caturra, Catuai and Pacamara grow under shade reaching 1,700 meters on Finca Los Papales, located on the slopes of Cerro Chimborazo, one of the highest hills in the region. Not far from the outskirts of the city, the Lopez family operates a wet mill and a dry mill, so they can control quality from seed to shipping. Because they are essentially growing coffee in a cloud forest and there is always moisture in the air, coffee is carefully dried inside greenhouses. But care and attention doesn’t stop with the coffee, which is characterized by heavy body and a sweetness that tends toward the savory side of chocolate, almonds, nougat and toffee. Operating within the Cerro Datanli Natural Reserve, Los Papales maintains the highest standards of sustainability and is certified by Rainforest Alliance.
On Finca Los Papales, sustainability is not only defined by how they work within the environment but how they work within the community. The plantation is home to a school for infants through sixth grade and the 65 students are not only the children of those who work on the farm, but children from neighboring communities as well. The same is true for the health center at Los Papales, which cares for local people whether they are associated with the farm or not. Olam is proud to consider Los Papales an important collaborator in connecting roasters to great tasting, sustainably produced coffee.
*Born in Honduras 1899, his mother was Nicaraguan and at age 6 Alfredo Alegría Rosales moved to Jinotega. He came and went, but spent most of his life in his adopted city of Jinotega, where he died in 1974. He started the first newspaper in Jinotega, taught school, and wrote several volumes of poetry. The excerpt from Aires de San Juan in Spanish:
Tan altos tus cerros glaucos
de terciopelo tristón,
tan blanco tu campanario,
tan blanco tu carrillón.
Tus nieblas, tus palomares
tono igual; blancor, blancor.
¡Oh provincia, torre azul,
Verde mar, blanco vellón.
Casitas al pie del monte,
manso fuero, perro fiel,
suave hogar, cándida novia
que va a la misa de seis.